Few debates stir such a reaction than the questions of euthanasia and assisted suicide. The Netherlands became the first country to legalise the practice in 2002, bringing with it stringent conditions and furious public debate. To the forefront of this debate has been Dr Phillip Nitschke, the former physician turned founder and director of the world’s most prominent pro-euthanasia group, Exit International.
Nitschke was the first doctor in the world to administer a legal, voluntary lethal injection. The controversial advocate of euthanasia has earned himself the nickname “Dr Death”, causing intense division on both sides of the already heated debate. In recent years he has been critical of medical law attracting public attention after burning his medical license in protest of what he perceived to be a violation of his freedom of speech.
More recently, however, Phillip Nitschke has become more popularly known as “the Elon Musk of assisted suicide”.
Nitschke was the first doctor in the world to administer a voluntary, legal lethal injection where the patient activated the syringe using a computer.
He also successfully campaigned to have a legal euthanasia law passed in Australia’s Northern Territory and assisted four people in ending their lives before the law was overturned by the Government.
Years later, Nitschke is now recognised as a pioneer of one of the first examples of ‘euthanasiatech’: Sarco, the 3D-printed ‘suicide pod’. Unveiled this year at a funeral fair in Amsterdam, the 3D-printed pod is filled with nitrogen at the press of a button, leading its occupant to a rapid and painless loss of consciousness, euphoria and eventual death. Invented by Nitschke and Dutch designer Alexander Bannink, the pod comes mounted on a stand with a detachable coffin.
Short for ‘sarcophagus’, Sarco was displayed to festival visitors, with virtual reality glasses offered to give a realistic visualisation of sitting inside the pod before taking a final decision to push the button. Whilst Nitschke has attracted scorn for his views on assisted suicide, the inventor insists that his technology merely offers people with the opportunity to die painlessly when they want to.
Nitschke hopes that his first fully functioning euthanasia pod will be built before the end of 2018, in what will be the first ‘suicide tech machine’ ever built. Once constructed, the working model will be shipped to Switzerland, where the practice of euthanasia is legal. However, the former physician insists Sarco is largely intended as a means of opening up the debate of euthanasia, rejecting claims that the technology shall be used for profit. With plans to eventually release a 3D-printable version, Nitschke is ardent in his belief that death shouldn’t be a behind-closed-doors affair.